A cold Monday night not long ago found me inside Ichiban Sushi Lounge on Third Avenue.
I was there to meet a friend who wanted me to hear some band that was supposed to be pretty good. But the guy wasn’t there. And the group hadn’t even set up yet.
So I was headed for the door and home when Larry Jess, my old college band mate, walked in carrying his trumpet case.
“Stick around, Clark,” he said with a big grin on his face. “You’re going to like this.”
Twenty minutes later I was introduced to The Bob Curnow Big Band.
This is not one of those stereotypical swing bands rehashing the same tired old Glenn Miller twaddle.
The Curnow band is a 20-piece powerhouse that delivers some of the hippest, multilayered modern jazz you’ll ever hear.
The stellar musicianship starts with Curnow, an internationally known jazz arranger, composer and publisher. A trombonist, Curnow played with the legendary Stan Kenton band during the 1960s. He later produced 25-plus albums for Kenton’s record label.
Curnow calls his Spokane ensemble “one of the best bands I’ve ever been in front of.”
He means it. The band is made up of some of the region’s top players, my old buddy Jess being a prime example.
I sat there amazed at being able to enjoy a band this fine – not to mention this big – without having to pay a cover charge. (The lion’s share of the band’s slim remuneration comes from passing a hat between sets.)
I left vowing to spread the word, and today is a perfect opportunity.
The Bob Curnow Big Band returns Monday to Ichiban, 202 W. Third, for two sets, beginning at 7:30 p.m.
You’re probably wondering how something this good can happen.
Curnow, 68, explained that it’s all about his band members’ devotion to the music. Add to this the thrill ride it must be to play such demanding, complex charts.
“I don’t screw around when I write,” Curnow said, adding that he doesn’t dumb down his arrangements.
If that’s not daunting enough, consider that the band “never knows what we’re going to play.”
That’s because Curnow cherry-picks each set list from 180 tunes taken entirely from the catalog of Sierra Music. This is the jazz publishing company Curnow runs out of a remodeled barn a short walk from his immaculate home.
On Friday I drove out to Curnow’s 21-acre spread near the Washington-Idaho line. Curnow is a relaxed and gracious guy who is well aware of how blessed he’s been.
One wall of his basement office is covered with photographs that show the musician in various stages of his enviable career: Curnow recording with the Kenton band. Curnow with trumpet great Maynard Ferguson. Curnow with jazz giant Bill Holman …
But career is just part of it.
Curnow has been married 46 years to Darlene, the freshman he met and fell for in college.
Now how cool is that?
The Curnows escaped the LA rat race in 1987, choosing the Spokane area as a wholesome place to raise their three kids.
From this rural setting, Curnow fills his time writing and arranging, riding his tractor and working in his garden.
“Somebody said to me the other day, ‘You’re living the dream,’ ” Curnow said. “I turned to Darlene and said, ‘Yeah, we really are.’ ”